Replacing a bad habit with a good habit takes
time and patience. It requires several steps, from setting your goals to
getting support. One of the important steps is figuring out what your barriers
What has stopped you from changing your eating habits in the
past? What do you think might stop you in the future? Identifying these
barriers now—and having a plan to help you get past them—will help you change
bad habits into good habits.
A barrier is anything that causes you to slip
up in your goal to make lifestyle changes, such as changing your eating
Figuring out what those barriers are and how you can get
around them can help you reach your healthy eating goals.
hit a barrier, get support—from your family, friends, or
Slip-ups are normal. Expect them, and have a plan for how
to get back on track.
How do you overcome barriers to healthy eating?
best way to overcome barriers is to identify them ahead of time and have a
backup plan to deal with them. Some barriers are the kind that keep you from
even trying to change a habit. Other barriers pop up later.
you hit a barrier—and most people do—get support. Talk to your family members
and friends to see if someone wants to be active with you or cheer you on. If
you have concerns about your health, talk to your doctor to make sure you're
doing your activities safely.
There are many reasons why you may
not want to try to change your eating habits. Here are some frequent barriers
and some solutions to them.
"I'll never be able to change how I eat."
Not believing you can do something is often really just a
fear of failure. People put off making changes in their lives because of this
fear. This kind of barrier can keep you from even starting to make a lifestyle
change. But it can also crop up on days when you feel discouraged.
Carefully define "success" and "failure."
If your goal is simply to improve your food choices or lose a modest amount of
weight, you will probably be successful. A goal to lose an unrealistic amount
of weight, "cure" a disease, or eat "perfectly," is just not realistic and may
very well lead to failure.
Set small, measurable goals. Eating two
pieces of fruit a day is a pretty easy goal to reach. Giving up your favorite
food is much harder, and you will be more likely to not even try.
"I don't have time to make changes."
This is a very common reason not to change. It can take
the form of "My life is too busy," or "I'm always feeling rushed," or "I have
more important things to do."
Learn ways to manage your time better.
Find time-management techniques that work for you.
Ask others how
they manage to fit good nutrition into their lives.
Don't try to
make too many changes at once. Small changes take less time, but they add up.
Ask your family and friends for help as you change your eating
behavior. This may involve having them help you to free up your
Cook quick meals. Many people believe that to eat well, you
need a lot of time to cook. But there are many cookbooks on how to prepare
quick, healthy meals.
"I don't like health foods."
Many people use this reason or variations of it such as "I
don't like vegetables," "I don't like low-fat foods," or "I really crave sweets
and high-fat foods. I'll miss them." Often a fear of the unknown is behind
Give it time. Food preferences are slow to
change, but they do change over time. Making a new behavior a habit usually
takes 3 months or more. Decide to withhold your judgments about what you like
and dislike in foods until you have given the new foods a chance.
Take it slow. You don't have to give up favorite foods completely,
but you may have to change how often you eat them. Make your changes small, and
give yourself time to adjust.
Recognize how others influence your
food preferences. Carrots aren't nearly as tempting (or as profitable for the
sellers) as cheesecake. And advertisers know it and play upon people's
preferences. Recognize advertising ploys as a way of manipulating your tastes.
Also, if you think "rabbit food" when you eat carrots or salad, try to replace
these negative messages with more positive messages about these foods.
"Health foods cost too much."
It's true that things like fresh produce, whole-grain
breads, and other healthy food items can cost more than fast foods and junk
foods. Sometimes it seems like your budget would do better if you just ate
cheap fast food every day.
But you can stay within your budget by
putting in some extra time planning, shopping, and cooking. And the more time
you invest, the more money you'll save.
Save money by learning and planning. Plan a
week's worth of meals at a time so that you're not as likely to go out to eat
on the spur of the moment. Plan menus so that you have leftovers for future
At the grocery store, save money by buying store brands
instead of name brands and by shopping in the bulk foods aisle.
day-old, whole-grain bread at a discount at a local bakery
If you're not used to cooking, start learning. It's not
hard to cook simple, inexpensive, healthy meals.
"I'll be criticized or made fun of if I eat health food."
Many people are held back from changing their eating
habits because of how they think it will look to others. It can be hard to
stick with a healthy eating plan when family and friends don't want to join
Find others who want to change. Take a
class on cooking healthy meals, find a Web-based community, or involve your
family. Many people are working on nutrition issues, and they can give you
Find places to eat where you are comfortable.
Order special foods (such as meat broiled instead of fried or salad
dressing on the side) casually and with minimal fuss. Ordering in this way is
common, and both the cooking and wait staff are likely to be quite familiar
with your requests.
"I'm not good at making changes."
This reason may take the form of "I'm too old (or fat, or
set in my ways) to make changes." Often, low self-esteem makes it hard to
Make small and measurable changes. They are
easier to make and usually cause less fear because there is less at risk. For
example, try eating one more piece of fruit a day than you usually
Work on self-esteem, if this is an issue. Counseling can help
with issues of self-esteem. The success you feel from improving your eating
habits may improve your self-esteem as well. Bit by bit, you may begin to
change the way you view yourself and your ability to change.
To help you identify your own barriers to changing your
eating habits, think about the last few times you thought about changing your
eating behavior but didn't follow through with it. What held you back? Write
down your reasons. Then for each of your reasons, write a response that helps
you reconsider your choice. Look at your list of reasons and responses whenever
you are about to make a choice about what to eat.
ByHealthwise Staff Primary Medical ReviewerKathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine Specialist Medical ReviewerRhonda O'Brien, MS, RD, CDE - Certified Diabetes Educator
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.